It is difficult enough to be an environmentalist in nations where peace prevails, struggling in the face of business interests and systems based upon outmoded ways of thinking. To do so in nations riven by conflict, where speaking out can lead to threats and, in extreme cases, death, requires a whole new level of courage. Fatima Jibrell is one such individual who has put aside personal risk to stand up for what she believes in.
Jibrell is one of Somalia’s leading environmental activists and the founder of Adeso—a non-profit organization established in 1991 in response to the outbreak of a devastating civil war that created a humanitarian crisis and sparked decades of instability and chaos.
She is driven by the belief that community-led change is the key route to a more prosperous, peaceful, and environmentally sound future. With Jibrell at its helm, Adeso has mobilized local and international resources to protect Somalia’s pastoral way of life and fragile environment, upon which so many livelihoods depend.
In particular, Jibrell has fought tirelessly against the illegal charcoal trade, which has decimated ancient acacia trees in Somalia. Ordinary Somalis are often not aware of the long-term consequences of deforestation and desertification brought by the trade in this inexpensive fuel, and Jibrell has dedicated near twenty years of her life to educating her country on the importance of conserving what remains of the acacia population.
Jibrell has displayed fierce commitment and determination to organize marches, produce educational videos, and lobby politicians to end the destructive trade. She was instrumental in bringing about a ban on the export of charcoal in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region, and thus drastically reducing the charcoal trade. She also tackled local demand—co-funding Sun Fire Cooking, which promotes widespread use of solar cookers as an alternative to charcoal.
Her efforts to build peace, advocate better environmental practices and protect the livelihoods of Somalia’s pastoralists were recognized in 2002 when she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. In 2007, she was awarded the National Geographic/Buffet Award for Leadership in African Conservation.
Jibrell is an outstanding example of the power of the individual to bring about change, harnessing her beliefs and energy into inspiring entire communities and nations to set aside short-term gain and create the possibility of a brighter future for generations to come.